The 2016-17 Bucks, with one game still remaining Wednesday night, have already locked up an above .500 record for the season and a date with the Raptors in the playoffs. That is the first above .500 season since the 2010-2011 campaign, when the Bucks went 46-36 (if you go back and look at that roster you’ll wonder how in the hell that happened). For a team whose mantra for the past few years has been “Own the Future,” the 2016-17 season gave their fan base a lot of hope that they might own the present sooner rather than later.
Milwaukee’s success started back on draft night, which at the time, did not garner much acclaim from the media. Thon Maker was looked at as a project (which he is) and a reach at 10 by many. Malcolm Brogdon slipped to the second round because of his age, although, if there is one thing that the entire world can agree on it’s that he should’ve gone much earlier. The Bucks snagged him with the 36th pick in a type of move that if the Spurs did it, Twitter would have a collective freakout because of course the Spurs got the only ACC player ever to win Conference POY and Defensive POY in the same season at a bargain, but instead, it was your Milwaukee Bucks making the right moves.
Both rookies have had a major impact on this season and should have an even bigger impact on the future. Maker was forced into the starting lineup after Jabari’s injury (we’re getting there), and although there have been growing pains and mental lapses, Maker undoubtedly has a place in the NBA which deserves a sigh of relief because that was not a given in June. At the very least, he’ll be a good shooter and he plays his hardest at all times.
Brogdon, on the other hand, was the opposite. From early on, you could tell his transition to the NBA was seamless. Brogdon stole Matthew Dellavedova’s starting spot pretty early on (thankfully), and never looked back. Brogdon could be the Rookie of the Year depending on if the voters value players that actually contribute to winning (do I sound salty? I may be salty) instead Dario Saric who, although talented, racked up stats on a bad team or a guy that played 18% of his team’s minutes in Joel Embiid on that same bad team.
The Bucks very well could have come home with the steal of the 2016 draft in Brogdon, and possibly the best player in Maker which is exactly what a franchise located in Milwaukee needs to do–because you can’t bring home free agents.
Speaking of free agents, four key contributors this season came to Milwaukee via free agency–and no, none of them are Mirza Teletovic.
Matthew Dellavedova, after getting his spot stolen by Brogdon, has been much better coming off the bench. The Delly/Bucks marriage seemed rough at first, but he was never meant to be the starter. Delly is a more than capable backup point guard.
Michael Beasley flamed out of every NBA city he’s been in, but with the Bucks he’s showed some of the Kansas State domination from his college days that got him drafted second overall. It’s only for halves or even quarters of games, but that has been substantial for the Bucks. They find themselves in ruts offensively for prolonged periods of time, and that’s where Beasley is perfect for his role. He promptly goes out on the court and gets buckets. Beasley has no interest in passing, ever, which is why the “Did Michael Beasley Shoot It?” Twitter account came about, and by the way, the answer is always yes. But I don’t think I would want it any other way. And, he also paints his nails…how cool is that?
Jason Terry has provided steady veteran leadership and at times three-point shooting; he’s also hardly making any money. Terry is always trying to get the Bradley Center crowd going as he waves his towel around and yells to the spectators. He’s been a father figure to one of the youngest squads in the NBA, which is obvious in events like when he accompanied Giannis on Rachel Nichols’s TV show and guided him through the segments. Whenever JET is done playing ball, it really would not be a surprise to see him on the coaching staff under Kidd.
Greg Monroe was signed two offseasons ago, but last year was so awful that this year might as well be his first in Milwaukee. The move to the bench has really helped him out and he seems comfortable in that role. Monroe was a key cog offensively in a lot of games this season although his production has dipped recently.
Bucks GM John Hammonds also turned Michael Carter-Williams for Tony Snell. Snell, like Delly, is suited for a backup role. Milwaukee will be closer to contending deep into the postseason when they have a better option than Snell, but he’s performed admirably this year as a starter. At the very least, Snell at least gave the team more than MCW would have.
The Bucks faced some major adversity at two important times of the season: before the season, when Khris Middleton tore his hamstring, and in the middle, when Jabari tore his ACL for a second time on the night Middleton returned. The Bucks were able to overcome it with a true group effort (although many nights it felt like it was only Giannis). Middleton’s return added a ball handler and a shooter, two of the Bucks biggest needs, and not-so-coincidentally, the Bucks started winning when Middleton got acquainted with basketball again.
It’s quite interesting, actually, that Giannis has been the lead man in two completely different duos in the two halves of the season. During the first half, he was playing with a fastbreak nightmare, powerful dunker in Jabari. In the back half, he was with sweet shooting and steady Middleton. Those two completely different styles definitely impact how Giannis played his game in each half of the season. With the Giannis/Jabari duo having a miserable stretch before his ACL injury and the rise back to the playoff picture with the Giannis/Khris duo, many fans have associated that as with Giannis/Khris > Giannis/Jabari, and then questioned Jabari’s future with the team on sites like Twitter and Reddit, which is frustrating because the Bucks do not have to choose.
Jabari’s defense will never be close to elite, but at 21 years of age, he was already becoming an elite scorer. His less-than-average defense is something Bucks fans are going to have to live with, but we have all been through the Luc Richard Mbah a Moute days, and let’s all agree we would rather have Jabari soaring through the air than that. In the playoffs, you need guys that can you get you tough buckets in big possessions. Jabari is one of those guys.
Finally, we’ve gotten to GIANNIS ANTETEKOUNMPO, the Greek Freak, All-Star starter, the smoothie king…it’s time to talk about him. This NBA season was the season of the triple-double, but if it wasn’t for James Harden and Russell Westbrook just going bonkers, it might have been the season of Giannis. Hell, the season of Giannis may be next year.
The Bucks signed Giannis to a giant extension last offseason, and about a week into the season you could tell he was going to be worth it (although he’s making less than three million dollars this year). Giannis has improved in virtually every statistic there is. He started in the All-Star game, will probably win Most Improved Player, and will certainly make one of the All-NBA teams. Giannis’s development into an NBA superstar is really what got the Bucks here. The rookies and free agents have been a plus, but Giannis is now arguably one of the best 10 players in the NBA. Plenty of nights, games simply came down to the fact that the Bucks had the best player on the floor in Giannis.
Pretty soon, Wisconsinites (and the nation as a whole) are not going to have a choice. He keeps getting better and more comfortable with his freakish body. As for now, it’s fun to watch him do things that no one has ever done in an athletic and statistical sense.
Statistically, Giannis is the only player in NBA history to finish the season ranked in the top-20 leaguewide in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals.
Athletically, I’m pretty sure he jumps out from farther than anybody else has in game:
What’s more impressive is when he tries to do things that he cannot do. Sometimes, he tries incredibly acrobatic dunks or finishes around the rim that even those long arms of his cannot complete and you’re left sitting there thinking:
“How crazy is it that a human being even thought he could do that?” That is the true Giannis experience.
And, the best part for last: he’s only 22 years old.